Michael Hlinka: The important take-away from the Inside Job documentary
- September 9, 2010 8:47 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a business column from CBC radio.
By Michael Hlinka, CBC business columnist.
The Toronto International Film Festival opens today. It's a pretty big deal for lots of people in the city that I call home.
I'm not the biggest movie fan in the world, you pretty much have to pay me to go see one. And this, in fact, is what happened last week. I went to see a preview screening of the documentary Inside Job, a film that looks at the 2008 meltdown in the world's financial system. The movie's been getting a lot of buzz - and positive buzz at that. One reviewer, Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times, says that it will "leave you thunderstruck and boiling with rage." Hmm... pretty powerful stuff... I guess.
The title, Inside Job, gives away the film's thesis. If a bank is robbed and it's an "inside job", we understand that the bank employees were in on it and in fact responsible for it. Ditto the 2008 financial crisis.
Filmmaker Charles Ferguson picks up the narrative with Ronald Reagan's appointment of Don Regan as U. S. Treasury Secretary. Regan previously had been with Merrill Lynch. Bill Clinton plucked Robert Rubin from Goldman Sachs to be his Treasury Secretary; George Bush Junior looked to the same corporation for Henry Paulson.
The argument is that the financial crisis happened because government insiders re-wrote the rules to favour private interests at the expense of the general good.
Okay. But I can't imagine anyone older than seven with an IQ that exceeds room temperature being "thunderstruck" by this.
There's a reason why there are 12,000 registered lobbyists in Washington, D. C. There's a reason why in a decade of stagnant economic growth, spending by lobby groups grew from $1.6 billion in the year 2000 to $3.5 billion in 2009. Recession? What recession? American business has figured out that the single best investment that it can make is to grease the palms of the people's elected representatives ... the people of the United States know it and seem to be indifferent.
There is one interesting interview in Inside Job, and it's with Eliot Spitzer, who was Attorney-General of New York State before his sexual escapades forced his resignation. Spitzer - someone who should know - claims that all the regulation was in place to prevent the financial crisis. The people in charge simply refused to enforce the rules.
Which tells me that the real take-away we should get from Inside Job is that more regulation and more government isn't necessarily the answer.
Rather, the problem is government and its unwillingness to do what people reasonably expect from it, and that is to look after the public good.
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